JANUARY 06, 2016
by Eriq Gardner
'Walking Dead' Creator Frank Darabont's Deposition Unsealed: "We Had Crisis-Level Problems"
What was the official reason for his firing? Darabont reveals the answer in scorching testimony that rips AMC executives.
In a newly unsealed deposition given in his big profits lawsuit against AMC, ousted The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont holds nothing back, blasting executives at the cable network for hiding in air-conditioned offices, explaining how he had to manage a crisis at the beginning of the second season of the hit zombie show and discussing the "concocted" reasons for his firing.
Darabont and his agents at CAA arepursuing claims that AMC breached his contract and deprived him of tens of millions of dollars in profits from the hit series by making a sweetheart deal licensing the show to itself. Most recently, the case has turned its attention to whether AMC rightfully reduced his profit share as he left the show in the middle of the second season. Darabont claims he rendered showrunner services on all second-season episodes.
In his deposition, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter,Darabont talks about the early days of the show, saying that despite the massive ratings success of Walking Dead, AMC created budget problems for the series. (Read the court documentshere.)
Darabontsays, "I remember Joel Stillerman [president of original programming and development for AMC], in a meeting in my office, when we were all discussing the issues of the upcoming season, we said to him, 'Surely that the success of the show, which, by the way, you guys are bragging about because we keep getting e-mails saying, 'Hey, we're breaking viewership records in 120 countries around the world by hundreds of percent, in some countries by over 1,000%,' at the same time we're hearing how successful the show is for you, you're telling us that this, this budget issue is not going to budge at all. And he said, 'The success of the show has no bearing on this discussion,' in a rather icy manner."
According to Darabont, AMC cut the budget "from 3.4 to 3," referring to the millions it takes to produce episodes ofWalking Dead.
"That was bad enough, but then they dropped the bomb on us that, oh by the way, they're keeping the tax credit," he testified. "They're going to pocket the tax credit. So, between the two you've got a full 25% cut across the board."
Darabont said this hurt the cast and crew, who he described as "busting their butts, leaving it all on the field, to earn."
In the deposition, he isparticularly harsh on AMC executives.
"When they did rarely show up on the [Georgia-based] set, [they] would ... drive in from the airport in their air conditioned car, race into the air conditioned tent we had there so the actors could have a break and not pass out from the heat, poke their heads out on occasion, and half an hour later jump back in their car and fly back to their air conditioned office in New York. I had a tremendous lack of respect for them."
Darabont thinks the AMC executives should have "put on some combat boots" to see the cast and crew working in 110-degree heat and "picking" ticks off their groin and their ankles at night."
The problems escalated, according to Darabont, who said he was managing "crisis-level problems arising on the first episode of the second season."
The footage turned in by the director for that episode wasn't up to snuff, he says, so he told the executives that he would have to step away from the writers' room, where they were attempting to develop the latter episodes of the second season of Walking Deadin order to shoot additional footage and put focus in the editing room.
Darabontsays this led to a conversation withSusie Fitzgerald,vpscripted programming. He asked her whether she agreed with this approach. He recalls her saying, "Absolutely I agree with your assessment. You have to do the crisis management. I understand that that's going to delay those scripts coming in by three weeks."
Later, Fitzgerald apparently denied having the conversation.
Darabont said her denial floored him.
"So, she out and out just lied to my face in front of everybody," he testified. "I can prove that because after the meeting I went back to the editing room to tell my editor to finish up a few things there that day anyway that needed finishing and to tell my editor what had happened."
As for why Darabont says he was fired, executives "concocted" a reason, he testified.
"They accused me of not having directors tone meetings," he said, referring to the way in which a showrunner is supposed to sit down with each director of each episode to go over the script — scene by scene — and convey the tone of the show. "And I said, 'That's absolutely not true, I have had a directors tone meeting with every single director this season.' "
Though his attorneys now argue he played a role on all the second season episodes, Darabont did acknowledge during his examination that he wasn't providing full-time showrunner services after July 27, 2011.
An AMC spokesperson gaveTHRthis statement about Darabont'stestimony: "Frank Darabont has made it clear that he has strong opinions about AMC and the events that led to his departure from The Walking Dead. The reality is that he has been paid millions of dollars under the terms of his contract, which we honored, and we will continue to vigorously defend against this lawsuit."Darabont'sdeposition isn't the only testimony to go public.
Glen Mazzara, who once worked on The Shield before becoming Darabont's top lieutenant on Walking Dead,taking over theshowrunningduties in the middle of the second season before leaving after the third, also testifies.
Asked whether AMC treated Darabont unfairly, Mazzara answered yes.
Mazzara added,"I believe that Frank was executing his responsibilities and duties as showrunner and there was a personal rift between [Walking Deadco-creator Robert] Kirkmanand Darabont and between Darabont and the AMC executives, and that when the material for the finale came in and Frank said I need some time to figure out a plan of how to pursue this and what we're going to re-shoot and what it will take to do this, AMC was unwilling to give him that time to solve the issue and they let him go without notifying him that he was, that the issues were that series. That if he did not appropriately solve these issues, he was about to be fired."
Darabontwas performing his responsibilities, said Mazzaro — delivering scripts, being in touch with the cast, dealing with department heads, even securing use of the famous "Hershel Greene farm" when a religious family who owned it didn't want to let AMC film there because of an objection to the content of the zombie drama.
"I believe Frank flew to meet with them and met with them and described the show and I think listened to them and reassured them of the type of show he wanted to do," Mazzararecalled. "And I believe that it was after that that they agreed to let us use that farm."
And even though Darabontwas forced out midway through the second season, Mazzarasaid his imprint was evident throughout all the episodes. It's important because as the one who first developedWalking Deadand brought it to AMC, Darabontwas entitled to get as much as 10 percent of profits from the series, but because he was terminated in the middle of the secondseason, AMC only counted him as three-quarters vested, meaning he only got 7.5 percent.
"A bunch of people running around on a farm running from zombies," saidMazzara. "And, you know, they're looking for a missing girl, girl comes out of the barn, everyone's upset about that, and then, and then they encounter a different group of people and have to figure out what to do and then there's a zombie attack at the end of the season. That was, I felt, Mr. Darabont'simprint as well as a cinematic approach to filming that material."
On cross-examination, Mazzarawas asked if he had not taken over as showrunner and Darabont had continued on Walking Dead, would that have "killed the show."
Mazarra responded, "Given the status of Episode 201, I would like to say that I did think Episode 201 was a show killer. I did say that."
TYPICAL HOLLYWOOD BULLSHIT.
THIS SHIT HAPPENS ON EVERY SHOW.
I WORK IN THE BUSINESS AND HAVE EXPERIENCED FIRST HAND THINGS THAT ARE FAR WORSE THAN ANY OF FRANK'S PROBLEMS.
HOLLYWOOD IS A BRUTAL BUSINESS, ONE OF THE MOST CUTTHROAT INDUSTRIES THERE IS.
IT'S A CESSPOOL FILLED WITH SHARKS.
You should, its pretty interesting.
What do you do? I've worked on productions between NY and LA for a few years and AMC's incompetence is fairly astonishing considering the major success of the first season. Though they probably had the foresight to know they didn't need Darabont, which is obviously true since the numbers only grew. Its still weird and unprofessional how stifling they were with Darabont the production as a whole, especially pocketing the tax money.
> According to Darabont, AMC cut the budget "from 3.4 to 3," referring to the millions it takes to produce episodes ofWalking Dead.
> "That was bad enough, but then they dropped the bomb on us that, oh by the way, they're keeping the tax credit," he testified.
> "They're going to pocket the tax credit.
>Though they probably had the foresight to know they didn't need Darabont
I heard Darabont wanted to scrap Kirkman's original story and come up with his own, where the zombies could talk and would form zombie communities and stupid shit.
True, but as we can see from GoT, Hollywood producers and showrunners nowadays don't want to simply adapt a story, they want to put their own "stamp" on the show and claim it as theirs* and that means shitcanning the original story and cooking up stupid shit of their own.
* supposedly Kirkman got pissed at Darabont for wanting to be credited as "creator" of the show and this contributed to Darabont getting the boot.
>supposedly Kirkman got pissed at Darabont for wanting to be credited as "creator" of the show and this contributed to Darabont getting the boot.
Honestly that would piss me off too.
One writer was excited that Hollywood came calling, and bought the movie rights to his book. They then wanted to buy the book rights to the movie. He was confused. There is already a book, and he wrote it. Why would he compete his book with something that they came up with?
>Darabont is a good director but shit writer, his ideas should not affect the writing
What do you mean?...
13 years in casting/production. Have worked on shows at every network and studio. Dealt with directors, producers and studio execs and the things I've seen and dealt with have jaded me to no end. I know Frank. He's a genuinely good guy. But his problems on TWD are run of the mill. Every production that I have worked on has had backstabbings and throat cuttings, graft, embezzlement, theft, sexual misconduct of every conceivable kind and Machiavellian power plays that would give Shakespeare a hard-on. The abuses in the business are epidemic. There's no end to people's greed and narcissism, and the higher up you do, the worse it gets. Studio and TV execs are the worst, but agents and managers are a close second. Talent's hit and miss, but when they are bad, they are horrible. Above the line, hit and miss. I've worked with a lot of monsters. If the money wasn't so good, I would have left the business a long time ago.
>hire kirkman at the start
>hype the show up for the first season
>get lots of views and the profits they wanted
>realize this is pretty expensive
>hey, lets cut out most of the zombie stuff and double the drama, we'll call it "art"
>anyone who complains or stands in the way gets fired
>people complain out the lack of zombies in the young and the restless 2.0 farm addition
>execs sprinkle in zombies kills, cliff hangers and fan service because they know we're going to come back
>we do because its one of the tolerable things left on tv, which doesnt say much
>rinse and repeat for the rest of the show, change directors when fans bitch and add in some more sprinkles here and there
so basically shit we already knew? Thanks frank